One might think that foreign countries in the crosshairs of President Trump’s disparaging rhetoric and hurtful policies would see a slump in tourism, but surprisingly the opposite is proving true. Despite Trump’s attempts to close borders and restrict travel, Intrepid Travel — the world’s largest certified B Corp, adventure travel company — has seen record growth in American bookings this year, with countries like Cuba, Mexico and Iran. According to the U.S. Commerce Department’s National Travel and Tourism Office, the number of U.S. citizens traveling internationally grew by 6% last year.
Specifically, this year, Intrepid Travel observed the following:
• IRAN: The company saw 91% growth in global passenger bookings to Iran. Leading the growth was Intrepid Travel’s Iran: Women’s Expedition, which was initially launched as a limited-edition tour and, given its success with global female travelers, quickly tripled in departures in 2018.
• CUBA: Immediately following the announcement of new regulations for Cuba travel, Intrepid Travel noted a 19% spike in US-based web traffic to its Cuba tour pages. In the months following the restrictions, the company’s rebuilt Hola Cuba for US Citizens tour became one of its top-10 selling tours in North America.
• MEXICO: American travelers booking tours to Mexico increased by 16% in 2019 compared to 2018, despite Trump’s persistent and hateful rhetoric about the country and its people, his controversial immigration policies and border wall project.
“Regardless of the current administration’s policies and sentiments, what we’re noticing is that American travelers are curious and open-minded. Instead of making sweeping judgements about countries because of political tensions, they’re increasingly interested in visiting these places and formulating their own opinions, while fostering a deeper understanding and connections through tourism,” said Michael Edwards, Intrepid Travel’s managing director in North America and Europe.
This “Trump Effect” has even been helpful to countries not involved in any disputes with the US. Intrepid noted a whopping 237% spike in web traffic to its Greenland pages the weekend after the media extensively covered comments Trump made about buying Greendland from Denmark.
“America isn’t winning when it’s falling behind global heavyweights like China, Germany, France, the U.K., Spain and others,” Tori Emerson Barnes, executive vice president for public affairs and policy at the U.S. Travel Association, told added in a recent interview in the New York Times. The trade organization noted America’s share of the international travel market fell to 11.7 percent in 2018 from 13.7 percent in 2015, marking the lowest level since 2006 in a continued downward trajectory. By 2022, it is expected to fall to 10.9 percent.
“Brand USA” is the marketing machine for the USTA and works to ensure the country maintains its share of international inbound travel and tourism. It is supported through a public-private funds buoyed by the $14 per authorization foreign travelers spend on an Electronic System for Travel Authorization, or E.S.T.A. That document gives permission for a visitor from abroad to enter the United States without a visa. A $10 portion is channeled to Brand USA and amounts are then matched by the private sector without use of tax dollars.
However, that funding source is currently at risk as the Trump administration is looking to redirect E.S.T.A. fees to fight their immigration battle at the border through Customs and Border Protection. The president’s 2020 budget seeks to eliminate funding for Brand USA.
The US can expect to lose 1.9 million inbound visitors and $11 billion in visitor spending from China alone because of trade war tensions, according to Tourism Economics, a consulting company. Meanwhile, China tourism European nations has tripled since 2006.